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The Arts in Psychotherapy 41 (2014) 115–119

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The Arts in Psychotherapy

The challenge of working with the embodied mind in the context


of a university-based Dance Movement Therapy training
Panhofer Heidrun ∗ , García Maria Elena, Zelaskowski Peter
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Keywords: Developing the necessary skills for a dance movement therapist, such as working with emotional con-
Intercorporeal knowing science, accessing the knowledge of the body and enhancing the intelligence of feeling, are only some of
Experiential learning the objectives of a Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) training. Experiential groups included in psychother-
Embodiment
apy training seek to provide opportunities for reflection on interactions and other important learning for
Dance Movement Therapy
future therapists. In this article the experience of conducting such experiential groups at the Autonomous
Training
Experiential groups University of Barcelona is shared through vignettes, portraying some of the emotional aspects that are
being activated in both, movement and verbal groups.
Special attention is given to the challenge of working with the lived, embodied, experience and the
embodied mind in an academic context which commonly emphasizes purely intellectual concepts and
evaluation criteria that may at times over-determine free expression of feelings. The multidisciplinary
approach adopted by the training is taken into consideration (the Marian Chace approach as well as
Authentic Movement elements within the DMT field, along with Group Analytic Psychotherapy and a
general intersubjective psychological orientation), as is the multicultural nature of the groups, composed
of students coming from nearly twenty different countries.
© 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Introducing the concept of intercorporeal knowing for the four years of time. In some courses, such as group supervision or
learning processes of a Dance Movement Therapy training the large group, students from different years may share classes,
and this mixture of students, from different levels of training and
The following article deals with the challenge of working with yar groups, shapes, generates and enhances the group dynamics
embodied, emotional awareness in an academic context. As lectur- within the entire body of students.2
ers on the university based master’s and postgraduate programmes The DMT training group and the large group are courses that
of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), we would like to share our take place during the entire first two years of the training: The large
experience of working in a context which commonly emphasizes group is an experiential verbal group which meets every weekend
purely intellectual concepts and evaluation criteria that may at of the training during one hour. It includes all students from the first
times over-determine free expression of feelings. DMT is multidis- and second year of the training and as such offers the only space
ciplinary in approach and it has been our goal to integrate minds on the course where all students have a chance to meet and share
and bodies, somas and psyches, the verbal and the physical in this verbally, and experience the group as one whole body (the group-
training process, without overvaluing one aspect over another. as-a-whole). The DMT training group consists of smaller movement
Our master’s and postgraduate diploma programme in DMT is
hosted by the Department of Clinical Psychology and the “Aula de la
Dansa” of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).1 Whereas
2
the postgraduate diploma course represents a larger introductory From 2003 to 2012 more than 280 students have passed through the training:
31%, of the students are psychologists, 16% are trained dancers and the rest come
course in DMT with about 30 European Credits (ECTS), the full train-
from a wide range of backgrounds, such as medicine, sociology, education, only to
ing as a dance movement therapist requires the entire master’s name a few. The vast majority of our students are women, aged between 25 and 35.
programme with 100 ECTS, a training involving between three and Only a few of our students are older than 40, and there is just a very small percentage
of male participants, a common feature in many DMT training programmes (Payne,
2010). Most of our students live and work in Catalonia, but the number of students
who travel from other parts of Spain to join the course, is usually quite high. A
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +34 615 34 66 57. total of 34% of the students come from outside of Spain, Mexico and Chile being
E-mail address: info@en-e-mocion.com (P. Heidrun). the countries that attract the largest number of students, but also other European
1
The UAB is one of the five most important universities in Spain, according to the countries such as Portugal, France, Germany, Italy etc. This variety of nationalities
latest QS world university ranking classification system (Gutierrez, 2010). and cultures influences greatly the functioning of the groups.

0197-4556/$ – see front matter © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2013.11.010
116 P. Heidrun et al. / The Arts in Psychotherapy 41 (2014) 115–119

groups, including generally from 7 to 16 students and one or two Experiential learning – working with the intelligence of
facilitators that meet twice every weekend for 1.5 h. The objective feelings
of the DMT training group is to offer the students the possibility
to take part in a DMT group and become familiar with the setting At times, experiential groups may at times be quite similar
and development of a movement group. From a first person stance to therapy. However, its main goals evolve around the students’
they can experience a broad range of possible interventions in DMT: understanding of the clinical setting and supply with opportunities
through the creative process in movement they can explore the to learn more about different possibilities of therapeutic interven-
symbolic dimension (Best, 2000; Chorodow, 1984; Meekums, 2000; tion. Through the experiential groups the students learn to develop
Schmais, 1985; Stanton-Jones, 1992; Vulcan, 2009) and investigate their capacity of observing their own sensorial, emotional and
their transferential reactions towards the facilitators, other group mental experience and to improve their abilities of interpersonal
members, the master’s in general or the university as an institution, communication through symbolic movements and words
as well as the group’s present fantasies.
For Payne (2010, p. 208) it is crucial to give DMT trainees
The students thus learn to become conscious of the interconnec-
the experience of symbolizing their own feelings as part of a
tions between bodies, psyches and individual actions. They start to
training programme, experiential methods such as the personal
engage with the concept of the collective body (Adler, 1994), as well
development group can provide the opportunities for these
as intercorporeal experience, a concept introduced by Merleau-
imperative experiences.
Ponty (1968) which is similar to Trevarthen’s (1977) notion of
intersubjectivity.’ Merleau-Ponty’s work, however, emphasised the At times the experiential groups, specifically the large group,
embodied experience, thus broadening Trevarthen’s notion when function as a barometer – the group as a pressure gauge for mea-
referring to a “shared corporeity” or “intercorporeity” (Merleau- suring the current ‘emotional’ climate on the training. That the
Ponty, 1968, p. 141–143). This intercorporeity can be defined as atmosphere or the mood of the large group provides those running a
“the capacity to understand another person’s action through the therapy training with a useful reading is beyond question. Current
body prior to, and as a condition for, cognition (Atkins, 2008, p. issues usually concerned with change, teacher absence, tensions
48). within or particular characteristics of the staff group or matters
Fuchs (2004, 2012), too, stresses the notion of intercorporeal with a broader institutional implication, usually find some form of
knowing and links it closely to Stern’s and the Process of Change expression within the large group.
Study Group’s concept of implicit relational knowing (Lyons-Ruth
Indeed, if we apply systems theory ideas, The isomorphic prin-
et al., 1998), a theory of prototypical experiences with significant
ciple requires that operational definitions of the structure and
others, a bodily knowing of how to deal with others.
function of any one system in a hierarchy can be applied to other
This early intercorporeality has far-reaching effects: Early systems in the same hierarchy. When system structures and
interactions turn into implicit relational styles that form the functions are described comparably at different system levels,
personality. As a result of learning processes which are in then what is learned about the dynamics of any one system can
principle comparable to the acquiring of motor skills, peo- contribute to understanding the dynamics of all other systems
ple later shape and enact their relationships according to the in the same hierarchy (Agazarian, 1987, p. 3).
patterns they have extracted from their primary experiences
One of the features of the particular academic context in which
(Fuchs, 2004, p. 4).
the training takes place is the split occurring between a small group
This implicit corporeal knowing refers to knowing how to treat of practitioner teachers, largely dance movement therapists, who
others from a very early stage onwards and was defined by Fuchs constitute the ‘core team,’ referred to earlier,5 and the larger group
(2004, 2012) as one of six types of body memory.3 of university academics who deliver a good proportion of the didac-
Our article builds on the above mentioned concepts which tic curriculum but play little or no role in the organisation and
underline the importance of intersubjective, intercorporeal pro- administration of the training. This is mirrored in the large group by
cesses and acknowledge an implicit, bodily knowing. It values and the struggle to let go of the role of teacher. Many students start off in
enhances the shared corporeity and embodied learning and works the group with pen and paper in hand awaiting instruction. When
with the knowledge and wisdom of the body, attempting thus none is forthcoming, students sometimes begin to assume teacher
to involve not only the students’ thinking faculties as would be or leader role characteristics and propose activities such as: giving
expected from an academic institution, but also their emotional introductions, taking turns, movement activities. . . Nonetheless,
and physical capacities. Subsequently experiences from two differ- the presence of a member of staff who, because this is a univer-
ent courses4 in the training will be shared, courses that are so called sity, students assume to be evaluating their participation serves
experiential groups – spaces where experiential and integrated only to intensify feelings of confusion and doubt. With the commu-
learning takes place through the lived experience in movement and nication through movement channel apparently closed the verbal
words. channel feels fraught with uncertainty, fear and doubt. “What can
I say here?”, “Who is listening?” and “What can or should we talk
about?” are typical expressions of the frustration felt at the begin-
ning in relation to the absence of any clear definition, structure
and task. Experiential learning and academic learning collide at this
3
Fuchs (2004, 2012) defines six forms of body memory: procedural memory, point, a matter exacerbated by the facilitator not providing direct
situational memory, intercoporeal memory, incorporative memory, pain memory answers to direct questions.
and traumatic memory.
4 A further dynamic, emanating from the academic/experiential
Our courses are taught by a total amount of 30 intervening staff, including guest
lecturers from all over Europe and South America, but also professional members divide, concerns the relationship between speaking and silence.
of the Spanish Professional DMT Association as well as lecturers from the Depart- In the academic context communication through words is
ment of Psychology of the UAB. A core team of 6–10 members, mostly teaching
staff who are directly involved with experiential classes, tutorials or supervision of
students, participates in regular staff meetings and exchanges the most vital infor-
5
mation about students. A smaller team, consisting of teaching staff concerned with Fuchs (2004, 2012) defines six forms of body memory: procedural memory,
experiential classes, intervises on a monthly basis the group processes. All three situational memory, intercoporeal memory, incorporative memory, pain memory
authors of this article belong to this smaller team of staff. and traumatic memory.
P. Heidrun et al. / The Arts in Psychotherapy 41 (2014) 115–119 117

disproportionately over-valued, consequently students experience of group consciousness. The second, on the other hand, shows
their silence as disproportionately problematic. There is greater an advanced group that is capable of metabolising its dynamics,
pressure to speak to gain attention or to speak to make an impres- through metaphors and images shared by the totality of the group,
sion. Many students withdraw into an angry resentful silence. an indicator of a rising collective consciousness.
Silence is often described as a waste of time or a wasted oppor-
tunity. The group facilitator has regularly made the following
intervention quite early in the life of the large group, underlining First vignette, third weekend of the first year of the training
that it is easy to feel that silence has no value in this group, but that
it is important to recognise that silence, listening and attentiveness The group starts with an attack from some members of the
are the ground upon which any form of conversation or dialogue group. The organisation and general sense of the master’s is ques-
depends. In our opinion, silence is the precondition, the invisible tioned. At the same time a certain tension can be felt in that part of
necessary labour that makes the group possible. the group that remains silent, with bound flow,6 passive weight,7
Shame, amplified by the academic context, becomes a factor little grounding and accelerated breathing. Such a reaction is quite
early on when the student feels herself being exposed and, because frequent during this phase of the training. It is difficult to process all
this is a university, evaluated. The more retentive students are fur- the information that the students receive about the functioning of
ther driven into defensive and self-protective silence. Hadar (2008) the training and of DMT in general. The fear of not being able to ful-
discusses shame as an interpersonal and essentially group based fil all the requirements of the training appears. It is understandable
phenomenon. Through her discussion of shame in the group that that the students project their sense of not feeling adequate out-
emanates from being seen or witnessed, i.e., as a person with a body side, more so as some students have been accepted for the master’s
in the presence of others, she questions Foulkes’ (1964) core group and others only for the postgraduate degree. Contradictory feelings
analytic concept of the matrix within that part of the group that remains silent can be intuited.
During the warm-up, which focuses on bringing attention to
the common shared ground which ultimately determines the
the feelings in the body as well as the movement and rhythm of
meaning and significance of all events and upon which all com-
the body, a strong resistance can be observed, a lot of bound flow,
munications and interpretations, verbal and non-verbal, rest (p.
neutral time and weight which may indicate a lack of connection
292).
between body and mind. For that reason, and given the fact that the
The matrix for Foulkes is the basis of mind. As such he situates group still has very little autonomy in the capacity to improvise as
mind as emerging from the relational space inside and between well as certain difficulties in relating amongst each other, an activity
people. For Hadar (2008) this fails to take into account bodily and with a specific object is proposed. In order to enhance the capacity
social origins of emotions such as shame. She therefore proposes of play and to loosen the defences it feels appropriate to focus on a
matrix as the group ‘body-mind’. Interestingly the Spanish transla- particular object rather than the proper bodies.
tion (as with the Hebrew) of matrix, which in English has a powerful All members receive a certain quantity of small sticks, sized
abstract and mathematical principal meaning, is matriz, also mean- about 10 cm, which can be spread on the floor, leaving certain
ing womb. spaces between them and allowing for free play.
In her qualitative, phenomenological, research study, Payne From the beginning the group starts moving with a lot of
(2010) describes a set of five major themes that emerge throughout urgency. It seems to respect the proposal mechanically without
experiential groups: ending and loss; rivalry/envy/jealousy; one’s being able to play. Even though the idea involves the relation-
own needs being met; anger; and sexuality. These are themes that ship with the space, very little attention to the space can be noted.
surface in our large group and DMT training group. Experiential Some members interfere with others carelessly and, without notic-
groups within a therapy training offer opportunities for reflection ing, destroy the figures created by others. An active interchange
on the interactive process, as well as other important therapist amongst all is generated quite quickly, dominated by flow, time
skills and processes (Payne, 2004). The participants’ consciousness and weight.8 Action predominates over consciousness, the search
of their own “lived experience” provides thus a crucial learning for a discharge of tension can be observed. Nevertheless one couple
experience for future clinical practice (Payne, 2010). places itself apart and constructs a defined form, modulating their
The large verbal group contributes to the development of efforts with a lot of attention given to their actions. There is a con-
embodied emotional consciousness, through its emphasis on the stant flow of action without any moment of indecision in what the
importance of the emerging bodily sensations and feelings, some couple is doing: one participant places around and on top of her
of which are extremely uncomfortable, that students tend to expe- partner many of the little sticks. Shape, flow and action are inter-
rience both on the course and in the large group. Feelings are flowing in a harmonious way and, observing the activity, they felt
intelligent insofar as we are able to know, or are open to knowing
and taking them seriously – and by this we mean: that we are able
to passively and actively experience within our relational world
as wide and deep a set of feelings as both we and our relational 6
The Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) offers a system to describe, classify and
world can bare. The relationship between feeling and emotion helps analyse human movment. The element of flow is one of the four efforts defined by
Laban, describing specific qualities of movement. The flow effort refers to the free-
to clarify, with the former denoting individual subjective sensory
dom or constraint of how we allow our breath to flow in movement. Regulating our
and bodily experience and the latter implying the expression in breath allows continuity or containment of flow: we speak about “Free” or “bound”
the presence of others of the feeling. This is a reminder of Malan’s flow, related to our disposition of controlling or giving freedom to the expression of
(1989) “goal” for each and every moment of psychotherapy: to put our impulses and feelings.
7
the person in contact with as much of their true feelings as they can The category of weight refers to another effort quality within the LMA Frame-
work: an action can be executed with “strong” or “light” weight. It is a category that
bare. The large group, like much of the experiential training expe- deals with the physical sense, the body, the skin and the muscles. The use of weight
rience, helps the student to learn that what they are in touch with, describes the intention that is used for the action and tells us about the “sense of
i.e., what they feel, however uncomfortable, is intelligent in that it self” of a person. Passive weight describes a moment of letting go, the body gives
meaningfully belongs to the relational context in which it occurs. into gravity, there is no “sense of self”, a lack of physical presence as we can find it
in heavy depression or third age.
Subsequently, two situations from the DMT training group are 8
This particular combination of three efforts where there is no attention or inten-
described: the first shows the existence of a field that includes tion towards space is called “passion drive” in LMA and indicates a state where
all present members, but still cannot be considered as a moment emotions and feelings predominate.
118 P. Heidrun et al. / The Arts in Psychotherapy 41 (2014) 115–119

truly “moved”9 (Whitehouse, 1979, p. 82). It looks as if a big bonfire her to observe the group “utilising rubbish to create, recreate and
is being constructed. rescue ‘broken bits’ and articulate in a group action.”
Later on the same participant comments that she saw her part- It seems as though in these moments the group has more
ner as a witch and wanted to burn her. There are few comments mature intersubjective consciousness with a high capacity to create
on the group and nobody mentions this particular image. The feel- associative chains between members and reflect upon these. The
ing of anger and fear remains contained within the group without participants act in unison and, attuned to each other, the group can
further visible elaboration inside the group (García, 2012, p. 109).10 be perceived in its totality with a shared emotional climate. In DMT
The general choreography and the emerging image remind us of these experiences facilitate the experience the embodied notion of
a field that includes the totality, a field of fight/flight (Bion, 1961) “the vital dynamic flow that allows us to be with the other” (Stern,
and a theme that cannot yet be understood, contained or elabo- 2005, p. 45). The fluid dynamics between emerging action, images
rated by the group. Thinking in terms of Lakoff and Johnson (2003, and words show, in our opinion, how the creative process in move-
1999) who argue firstly, that the mind is inherently embodied, sec- ment is able to activate a continuum between implicit knowing
ondly, that thought is mostly unconscious and thirdly, that abstract (Fuchs, 2001; Polanyi, 1969, 1983) and reflective capacity (Stern,
concepts are largely metaphorical, the group seems to process their 2005; Dosamantes-Beaudry, 2007). By developing a consciousness
issues in a purely embodied, unconscious and metaphorical manner of their own presence the students start to build up the neces-
at this stage of the group’s development. sary capacities to offer an adequate therapeutic presence (Robbins,
1988) as future therapists. Developing an inner witness, a receptive
consciousness in order to observe the experience of the “present
Second vignette, last trimester of the second training year moment” (Stern, 2004, p. 4) without being conditioned, is what
allows experiencing “the body-felt connectedness among people”
During previous sessions the group has shown itself able to that is “profoundly related to the source of our humanity” (Adler,
confront the difficult theme of rivalries between group members. 1994, p. 193).
During the initial check-in the group talks about their individual
differences, the possibility of laughing about them, to be able to
Dealing with the “primordial soup of opposites”
share more difficult aspects now that they have developed more
trust as a group. For the warm-up an experience of different ways
DMT as a multidisciplinary approach integrates a variety of the-
of walking in time and space is proposed by the facilitator. The
ories and approaches and so requires a constant dialogue between
group moves dynamically while occupying most of the space. Only
the different constituent parts. De Maré and Schöllberger (2003)
one person, after having moved with some sustained movements
situate the idea of dialogue in a dualistic, as opposed to monis-
on the edge of the group, allows herself to fall on the floor at the far
tic, frame, within which there is a constant dialogue between two
end of the hall and remains in a horizontal plane. After a few min-
entities. The dialectics of change and evolution, within which the-
utes a large quantity of newspapers is offered to the group which
sis and antithesis interact over time to produce a higher synthesis,
brings the group to dynamic and varied action. The paper is torn
drive the group forward. Within our experiential groups a few such
apart, balls are formed to be thrown or kicked around, some “dress
dualities have been: moving and speaking; speaking and listening;
up” with the papers, modify their bodies or the body of others. But
body and mind; I and we; private self and social self; individual and
quite quickly the group finds a common action: coming closer to the
group; first year and second year; chaos and order; container and
person who has remained on the ground they start packing almost
contained, explicit and implicit, postgraduate diploma and master,
all the paper under her clothes, until she is completely filled. Her
and so on. Zinkin (1989) writing about the search for wholeness
figure transforms, the group lifts her up and walks with her to the
describes as so fundamental to groups the capacity to be able to
centre of the room while she herself stuffs a last paper ball into her
hold chaos and confusion. For Zinkin, this meant immersion in “the
mouth. In the final verbalisation, images appear about something
primordial soup of opposites” (ibid, p. 255). In this constant dialec-
that is going to be eaten such as a huge pig, but also images of a
tical process, which is moving towards a sense of the group as a
dead body and a ritualistic dimension. From these images different
whole integrated body, students begin to recognise the primary
associations are shared of what one “eats” when participating in a
importance of conflict in the pursuit of growth and development.
group. Somebody adds that there is also the digestive-elaborative
The following vignette illustrates the theme of the large group as a
part of the group and the expulsion of these contents that are being
nascent democratic body with internal dialectical tensions:
put back into the circle.
The scene transforms when the lifted person is being put back to
the floor and the newspapers are taken out of her clothes in order Third vignette, 4th session of ten
to be used again by the group. This time a circle is formed, but the
group actions are characterised by a lot of free flow and lots of vari- The coldness of the room and the lack of natural light (there are
ety. While all tear and throw newspaper a song emerges containing no windows) is an ongoing theme. However, today is a mild day,
the names of all the authors used in the different bibliographies of yet the heating has been on all morning and the room feels oppres-
the master’s: “Laban, Bion, Neri, Winnicott, Stern, . . .!” They play sively hot. The facilitator switches the heating off just before the
with these names, singing them with different voices and qualities session begins. Ten minutes into the meeting and a first year stu-
that they associate with the name. A lot of laughter fills the place dent stands up and walks to the door, which she opens. A second
and the action only finishes when the session comes to an end. Dur- year student expresses her discomfort at this individual course of
ing the final verbalisation someone shares how important it was for action, taken without consulting the group. The group splits along
the lines of a first year subgroup supporting the action of their col-
league and a second year subgroup arguing for action based on
group decisions. Frustration is expressed that the group is wasting
9
Chodorow (1984, p. 269) defines “to be moved” as “a moment when the ego time on this theme, while others argue that the issue goes to the
gives up control, stops choosing, stops exerting demands, allowing the Self to take heart of what the group is about. The issues of safety and boundaries
over moving the physical body as it will.” This type of experience can clearly be
encountered in Authentic Movement groups, but also in this type of experiential
emerge – that with the door open we are exposed and vulnerable.
DMT groups. The facilitator points out that nation states spend much time debat-
10
Translation from Italian by xxx. ing the management of external frontiers and that here we are also
P. Heidrun et al. / The Arts in Psychotherapy 41 (2014) 115–119 119

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to his colleague that her class is scheduled to start after the group. philosophical understanding. In S. Schneider, & H. Weinberg (Eds.), The large
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Translation from Italian by xxx.